Ibb and Obb caught my eye at E3 while I was rushing through Sony's booth between appointments. I immediately stopped, stared, made a quick mental note of where it was, and vowed to return. Initially, I didn't know what it was called, since the font used in its title looks almost Arabic from a distance. But I knew I wanted to play it, because there was something about the way it looked that really appealed to my gaming heart. Like when you see someone across the room you're immediately attracted to.
I ended up going back to it in the final hour of E3, when I'd finished taking care of all my obligations. I'm really glad it was one of the last things I saw – because it ended up becoming one of my enduring memories of the show. Which I know is irrational considering this year's E3 was packed with incredible end-of-generation games, and a smorgasbord of even more impressive ones from the next. But after days of playing complex, effects-heavy games, Ibb and Obb's super-simple characters, beautifully minimalist backgrounds and stripped-down, no-frills platform gameplay were a breath of fresh air.
Yet while it looks simple and innocuous, Ibb and Obb's gameplay is anything but. Two local or online players (or a very adept single player) are tasked with guiding the game's stumpy pair of eponymous characters safely through the 15 levels that comprise their rather strange world. Or should that be worlds? Because Ibb and Obb live in an environment split into two mirrored planes, each with its own gravitational rules. Rather than waste any more time explaining it, just have a quick look at the video below, which showcases the concept quicker than it probably took you to read this sentence.
Like most traditional platform games, Ibb and Obb is all about negotiating environmental hazards and avoiding deadly denizens. However, unlike most platform games, this focus is laser sharp and unerring. There's no story. There's no context. Creatures are obstacles, rather than intelligent threat, and running and jumping are the only things you can do. Yet while the game is supremely simple in concept, in practice, it's a beast to play.
The designers have leveraged the game's dual gravity and bi-directional momentum to create some of the most fiendish, mind-bending puzzles I've encountered in a platform game. In some sense, it reminds me of Portal, which requires you to think way outside of normal conventions because what you're actually doing is, to all intents and purposes, impossible. In Ibb and Obb's case, you can do things like jump through the floor into the inverted world, whose reversed gravity completely changes your momentum and trajectory and enables you to reach a platform that your lying eyes tell you should be impossible to reach. This is one of the game's fundamental mechanics that the designers riff on repeatedly until you find yourself doing insane things like using several passes through each world to build up enough momentum to make a huge jump. Add to that portals that only one character can pass through, mechanisms that enable characters to propel one another over objects, and increasingly challenging and convoluted level layouts, and you end up with a platform game that taxes both your brains and your reflexes in equal measure.
On later levels, critical timing and evil leaps of faith are required to progress, and some of the co-operative puzzles are surprisingly complicated considering the game's fairly basic construct. Because of that, you need to keep two things in mind. Firstly, you need a really skilled partner to help you get through this game. Secondly, voice communication is key. While it is possible to communicate using an on-screen trace that lets you point at things and show routes, being able to brainstorm puzzles makes things a lot easier. Because some of the later puzzles are not obvious at all, and require some extremely well timed teamwork to solve.
There is a one-player mode, but it's only viable for people who can do two very complex things at once. A character is assigned to each joystick, and you control both simultaneously, which is tricky enough when they're both running along together – but as soon as you get into situations where one's upside down and both are making critical jumps, it's about as challenging as video gaming gets. If you've ever wondered just how good you are, Ibb and Obb will help you answer that question.
From its lovely graphics to its absolutely knockout chilled electronica soundtrack, Ibb and Obb has very high appeal. Yet while it looks cute and innocuous, it's not afraid to kick your ass. It'll test your patience, tax your skills and sometimes leave you screaming in frustration. And I'll tell you now, this game will also test your friendship with your co-player when one of you repeatedly makes the same mistake trying to get past a particularly tricky challenge – but will cement it when you both work together to best it.
If I do have a criticism, it's that on later levels, Ibb and Obb's fiendish puzzles give way to more skill-based challenges that require pattern-learning and extremely critical timing. I didn't mind that too much, coming from the olden days of pixel-perfect jumping and sometimes-frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, but I can see why this might be a deal-breaker for some.
Ultimately, Ibb and Obb is a charmer. It's a charmer that'll slap you around, and sometimes make you feel like an idiot, but it's a charmer nonetheless. It's a shame there isn't a more robust one-player mode, because the two-player aspect does limit this game in some respects. But if you do have people you can play with – and whose skills you trust – this'll give you a thoroughly enjoyable gaming workout that'll test you to your limits.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Simple, elegant and minimal. Very cute and appealing too, but don't let its looks fool you. This game has teeth.
- Music: The chill electronic BGM by Kettel is phenomenal – and is also available as a standalone purchase.
- Interface:Like everything else in this game, it's minimal and no-frills.
- Lasting Appeal:Getting the most out of this game requires a player you can work with, and whose skills you can rely on. Especially on later levels, where only the most adept will succeed. Once all 15 levels are complete, however, there's not a lot to bring you back.